Faces of Victory. 9th of May 2017 in Chisinau

Photography

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Book recommendation: The Silence of the Sea by Vercors

Book Reviews

This isn’t a review as such, because reviewing something that was written during the war by a member of the French Resistance is inappropriate. Imprinting your vision or opinion on something that was written by a witness is, in my view, utterly inappropriate.

The Silence of the Sea is exactly the story that would have been branded as inappropriate in our parts of the world. Some places in Eastern Europe are still obsessed by their vision of history, the glorified past washed to the shining bone… Germans were bad. The Soviets were victims. Sometimes the Soviets are branded as the only victims. A disdainful opinion “What do they, the Westerners, know of war?” is still heard all too often. Education is to blame, and not the lack thereof. The ones that are a decade older than myself have studied World War II in great many details during the history and literature classes. Instead of being taught reason – that war isn’t black and white, that the ones that are dragged into it aren’t always good or bad – many, many people from the former USSR were taught that the Germans were the big bad wolf. A short story about a good German is something too fantastical to be true for many conservative minds. This is what the Silence of the Sea is in fact.

It is a story about a girl and her elderly uncle, living in a small provincial town invaded by the Germans. Werner von Ebrennac is a German officer that they are forced to host in their own home. In an act of resistance, the French family treats the foreigner, the despicable Nazi with silence… Werner – the well-mannered, cultured and respectful officer does all the talking, and as his monologues unfold we learn that still and silent waters hold secrets…

I recommended this short story to a Ukrainian friend some years ago. When I saw her the next day, she said: “I hate you. I cried” 

Book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

9780008138301Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is a masterpiece of great beauty, a true literary tour-de-force that sweeps the reader away and doesn’t let go, and as you rush through the pages some of the most persistent thoughts in your head are – I do not want this to end. I’ve recommended All the Light We Cannot See to my mother, grandmother and to my boss well, to almost anyone whom I’ve met since I finished it and who has the slightest interest in the written word. Doerr’s book is a stupendous and enchanting masterpiece that pulls you right in.

Review: Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Book Reviews

Letters from Skye is, truly, unputdownable, one of the rare novels that sweeps the reader away and does not let go. In 1912 Elspeth Dunn is a published poet, living as a recluse on the Scottish island of Skye. Skye is her world, Elspeth never traveled beyond, fearing to cross the waters separating the remote island from the British mainland territory. She is astonished to receive her very first fan letter from Chicago (of all places) college student David Graham.  Elspeth and David strike up a long-distance friendship, which, after years of correspondence, turns to love, even though the two never met in person and Elspeth is married. As the first World War rages in Europe and Elspeth’s husband Iain goes missing, David signs up as a volunteer ambulance driver to the French front.

In 1940, Elspeth is a secretive single mother, living in Edinburg with her daughter Margaret. As Elspeth and Margaret quarrel over the latter’s apparent feelings for a RAF pilot, Elspeth insists that nothing good may come of the search for love in war time. The second World War reopened Elspeth’s old wounds; Margaret starts to question what happened with her mother during the last global conflict, a bomb hits their street and Elspeth disappears, leaving behind a single mysterious letter from an American named Davey to a woman named Sue. Margaret begins the search for her mother and starts to unravel the secrets that shook Elspeth Dunn’s family during World War I.

Letters from Skye is a marvel-of-a-novel that has now conquered a very special place in my reader’s heart. It’s a historical novel, but also one of the most touching and poetic love stories a reader may get a chance to encounter. Elspeth and Davey are soulmates, divided by distance and consequence.  They haven’t met each other, but you are with them as they fall in love, and there’s a tremendous beauty in their story, they’re smart, funny and full of life. In short, they feel real. As the timeline skips back and forth between the 1910s and the 1940s, you understand that something dreadful happened during the first World War, but all of my guesses came short of what really took place.

Overall: 5*

Victory day in Chisinau

Photography

Each return to the Memorial in Chisinau is a a very emotional occasion. I still remember the solemn excitement of going there with my grandfather, I must have been about four or five. Victory Day, the 9th of May has always been special, this year – even more so. My great grandfather, as I discovered yesterday, may have been a prisoner of war. My other great grandfather survived Stalingrad and Koenigsberg…

Sadly, the numbers of the veterans are dwindling with each year…. Today, thousands honored their 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in Chisinau.

Review: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Book Reviews
Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940. Suite Française tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy—in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.

Suite Francaise is an astonishing masterpiece, its rich and exquisite prose is perfect in its unfinished beauty. The circumstances of its creation and publication are truly remarkable, this is no overstatement. Written under the Nazi occupation by a Jewish-Ukrainian author Irene Nemirovsky, it was discovered more than half a century after her death in Auschwitz. Suite Francaise is, in fact, one of the earliest works of fiction about the occupation of France.

Born in Kiev, Irene Nemirovsky fled the Russian Revolution with her family, settling in France at the age of 16. Nemirovsky started writing in French and published a total of nine novels. A Storm in June and Suite Francaise were passed on to Nemirovsky’s daughters after the arrest of her husband Michael Epstein. Denise Nemirovsky discovered that her mother’s battered notebook contained a novel only in the 1990s.

It is a strange feeling, the realization that you’re reading a novel written almost at the time as the historical events unfolded. I couldn’t help but wonder that Irene Nemirovsky might have known some of the book characters, or rather the real people that could have inspired them, that some of the scenes from Suite Francaise may have happened around her.

The characters of Suite Francaise are connected by an intricate thread, their paths cross and collide, as the war and Nazi presence provide the perfect setting for the reveal of their true character. A Storm in June captures the flight from Paris. As the Nazis advance on the French capital, Parisian residents scramble to get out of the city. Fear, lies, petrol stealing, worries about personal goods and status while the enemy is knocking on their doors… Dolce covers the year in the life of an occupied town called Bussy. The residents are forced to host a German regiment, they learn to co-exist, accept and in some cases, see the enemy as mere men. The story of Lucille and German officer Bruno is beautifully heartbreaking. The recently-released Suite Francaise film follows the events recounted in Dolce. It is a pleasure to say that the adaptation turned out brilliantly, despite some minor plot changes.

A reviewer has once compared Suite Francaise to a bombed cathedral. There are no truer words to describe a book of such magnitude: “The ruined shell still soars to heaven, a reminder of the human spirit triumphing despite human destructiveness.”

Review: City of Thieves by David Benioff

Book Reviews

Twelve eggs to save a life. The story of adventure, survival and brutalities of Stalingrad siege from David Benioff, the producer of Game of Thrones. 

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. 

Review: Hare with Amber Eyes

History, Reviews

From Japan to Paris, through Vienna and back to Japan. In his memoir entitled The Hare with Amber Eyes Edmund de WaalScreenshot 2015-02-15 21.53.45 recounts the fascinating family saga that surrounded 264 netsuke, traditional Japanese figurines that were given to his great grandfather on his wedding day…